HomeNBANew BYU coach Kevin Young’s path to Provo included Irish Sea plunges,...

New BYU coach Kevin Young’s path to Provo included Irish Sea plunges, driving buses and subbing out Chris Paul

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Kevin Young packed his bags, flew across the Atlantic Ocean and was immediately put on scrambled eggs duty.

Long before he would become Brigham Young University’s men’s basketball coach, Young got his first head coaching job in Ireland. He was 23 years old and living in a packed home in Dublin.

His roommates? They were also his players.

His point guard, Jonathan Reed, slept in the loft. His center, Ben Bridges, had the downstairs. Young and his shooting guard took claim to two other rooms. They were all basically the same age, all just out of school.

Young would wake up early and make breakfast for his roster before they’d head out to practice. He had an incentive to make sure they were fueled for his competitively laced sessions.

“We had the starting four and the coach living in the same house,” Bridges said with a laugh. “It was like college. We all got really close. He’s like a brother.”

(Ben Bridges | Shamrock Rover Hoops) New BYU coach Kevin Young, right, in Ireland with members of his team.

Young has come a long way since he was head coach of Shamrock Rover Hoops and the youngest coach in the Irish Super League.

Eighteen years later, after stops in the G League, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Phoenix Suns, Young is now one of the Big 12′s most intriguing new coaches. He’s stepping down from the NBA whenever the Suns’ playoff run ends to take over a BYU program desperate to break through nationally.

It’s a mantle he’s been unconventionally preparing for since the start.

“Kevin’s a head coach,” Reed said. “I mean, that is what he’s made to be. He is just a natural.”

Plunging in the Irish Sea

Young first spotted the job offer through an advertisement. A team in Ireland’s top division was looking for a coach.

Young had limited experience. He spent one year on Dick Hunsaker’s bench at Utah Valley. His job description was essentially anything Hunsaker needed. One story made the rounds: After a game, Hunsaker told Young to get a game tape and follow him for three hours by car to a location — only for Young to arrive, get out of the car, and hand Hunsaker the tape and go back home.

“He was hazing him a bit,” said former Utah and Weber State player Lance Allred, who knows Young and played for Hunsaker years before. “He could have just given it to him outside the arena… But Kevin loved basketball. He was a pro.”

And Young wanted a shot at being a head coach. So he called his old college teammate, Reed, for advice. They played at Clayton State together in Georgia. Reed was a few years older and had been playing overseas. What did he think about the job in Ireland?

“I was like, ‘Man, take it,’” Reed remembered. “If you want to be a head coach, you’ve got to be a head coach. Not an assistant. Come out to Ireland and take the lead seat.”

Not only that, Reed promised to play for him. He had a son on the way in September, but he’d move to Dublin right after and help Young build it.

It was fortunate he did. Young was inheriting a mess. The Shamrock Rovers were the worst team in the league the year before, going 5-15. Financially they weren’t stable.

(Jonathan Reed | Shamrock Rover Hoops) Kevin Young takes a team picture with the Shamrock Rover Hoops team. It was his first head coaching job at 23.

When Young and Reed arrived, there was no housing for foreign players. The family who owned the team said Young could live with them. Reed knew that wasn’t right. Finally, the owners caved and got a separate house for Young and the rest of the international players to live in. They also gifted them an old 2001 Honda hatchback the team called “The Silver Bullet.”

“It was basically like, here you go. Good luck, get to practice,” Reed said.

(Jonathan Reed | Shamrock Rover Hoops) Kevin Young at the team house in Ireland where he and four of his players lived.

Young hurried to build out a roster. Each team could only have two Americans. Reed was obviously Young’s first choice. But Young found another player from Stetson, the 6-foot-7 Bridges, to be his second.

Bridges was already in Ireland at the time, on a tour with several other recently graduated college players. They played in London, Germany and then Ireland. Bridges had a week tryout with the top Irish team. He was cut and nearly went home. Young called, asked him not to get on a plane, and suggested he come down to the Irish capital.

On the basketball front, Young quickly commanded the room. He was nearly half the age of some of his players. Lennie McMillian was in his 40s. But the scouting reports were more detailed than a Division I program and the practices were two hours of non-stop competition. Young would sub in for his older players when they needed a break. He’d lift with the team, too.

The Rovers started 8-0.

“The play calling. The sets. The scouting. Everything,” Bridges said. “He was next level.”

When the team finished for the day, Young was in charge of building the business. He enlisted Reed to help. They went to local schools to run basketball clinics. They ran a youth league. They’d go out to the farming areas to recruit players.

While Young couldn’t be his player’s friends during practice, he could let loose at night. They took that two-door Hatchback all over the island. Reed and a few of the guys drove to the Irish Sea. Young jumped into the freezing waters. Everyone else was stunned.

“It was amazing,” Reed said. “It was an interesting dynamic, your coach is just sitting on the couch eating a sandwich. But everyone respected him because he was just so good.”

(Jonathan Reed | Shamrock Rover Hoops) New BYU coach Kevin Young takes a photo in Ireland with some of his players in 2006. “The Silver Bullet” is the car behind them.

The Rovers finished 12-8. And Young was on his way to his next head coaching gig in the G League.

Driving the bus

In Ireland, Young’s practices last two hours — but they were only that short because they shared the gym.

The first practices he ran as the head coach of the Utah Flash were four- and five-hour marathons. It was something he took from his college playing days. Young would set up 3-on-3 games and have his players go at it.

“You would think you won the match and he would be like, ‘Alright, go again,’” Allred said, who played for Young with the Flash. “He kept grinding it and grinding it. Really trying to develop a culture of hating to lose.”

Young’s second head coaching stint only had slightly more resources than his first. He had risen up the ranks with the Flash, spending three years as an assistant before becoming the lead. In that time, his job including driving the opposing team’s bus to the arena.

“We were responsible for the out-of-market team’s travel,” said Brad Jones, the former Flash head coach and a longtime NBA assistant now with the Memphis Grizzlies. “Don’t think it was his favorite job. But he was willing to do anything to learn, get experience.”

Young spent his offseasons leading a group of international pros on tours to Estonia.

By the time he was promoted, Young had an offensive identity. He evolved from a four-out, one-in system to more NBA style sets.

“It was a very simple, quick-hit offense,” Allred said. “A lot of guys get cute. … He is good enough to have a quick counter to whatever the defense gives.”

Young found his voice, too. He told Allred, who’d had NBA experience with the Cleveland Cavaliers, after a few weeks it wasn’t going to work out.

“He wasn’t petty, insecure. He gave me respect. A few years later, he referred me to a coach in China,” Allred remembers. It was then, Allred thought, Young could make it.

Take Chris Paul out?

Bryan Gates didn’t want to do it. But somehow he was the one who had to walk up to Young in the middle of an NBA blowout and say, “Hey, let’s get Chris [Paul] out of the game.”

Young was acting as the interim head coach after Monty Williams contracted COVID-19 in 2021. At the time, he was early in his Suns assistant coaching tenure, moving to Phoenix from the Philadelphia 76ers.

Young looked confused when Gates suggested he take out the future Hall of Famer.

“I’m like, ‘Bro, we’re legit up 40,” Gates remembered. “He was just so locked in.”

As Young molded into a potential NBA head coach, he trademarked his exacting competitiveness. The Suns coaching staff would ask around, “Do you think Book [Devin Booker] would do this? Chris would do this?”

“KY would say, ‘Yeah, if we want to win.’ He just took out excuses,” Gates said.

It translated to respect. He became a sounding board for Booker, who called the new BYU coach “somebody I wish I could’ve played college basketball for.”

“I’d pick his brain. We’d talk about a game that was on TV last night and what we would’ve done differently,” Booker said. “Usually we’d end our conversations on the same exact page.”

In a playoff series against the Pelicans, Young kept screaming from the bench to get All-Star Brandon Ingram to his left hand. Giving the eight-seed even an inch bothered him.

(Ross D. Franklin | AP) Phoenix Suns coach Kevin Young, right, argues with referee Mousa Dagher, left, after a foul was called against the Suns during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, in Phoenix. The Suns won 115-97.

“The Finals run, he’s had a big factor in this franchise’s success,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said. “… They are beyond lucky to have him at BYU.”

One night in New York, Young was supposed to get dinner with Gates. It was their tradition to get food once per road trip. But that morning, Young told Gates he could only eat after 9 p.m.

When they met up, Gates asked him about the delay. Young had seen Hamilton by himself.

“Really?” Gates said, shocked. “I might have gone with you. He’s like, ‘Yeah, I didn’t know. [You] might have had to scout the next day.”

Gates was shocked at first. But then it made sense. Young is a man obsessed with basketball. At all costs, he didn’t want to hurt the team.

And now, he is finally getting the position he’s been chasing around the world.

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